TL;DR: I think there's a very small gap between 7th and 8th gens on console and this will lead to a shortened generation followed by VR-focused consoles in a few years.
Like a lot of gamers I've been pretty unimpressed with the offerings of the 8th gen consoles. We're over 18 months into the cycle and it feels like all I got for my money was an incremental improvement over the last gen in graphics, and a pretty small improvement at that considering that Xbox 360 launched 8 years before the new crop.
It's not that there's nothing to play; I have had fun with MKX and a bunch of other stuff and I have plenty of stuff in my backlog. I also know The Witcher 3 and Arkham Knight are coming out soon and a lot of people are excited for those. My issue is more that it all feels so stale. Almost every big game these days is a sequel, and my favorite non-sequel of last year, Sunset Overdrive, just felt like another open-world game, this one focusing on traversal. I loved it, but it was just another clever cross between genres I'd played 100 times.
Looking back over console history I can't think of a single gen that wasn't wildly significant.
- First gen (pong type consoles) was...the first gen. These machines were rudimentary but they were the first.
- 2nd Gen (Atari, Coleco, Intellivision) First swappable cartridge systems. These are the first systems that really resemble what we think of when we think of game consoles. They were a huge leap over what came before. Some of these games are actually still fun.
- 3rd Gen (NES/Master System) The first truly representational graphics (as opposed to the abstractions on Atari) and the first real narrative games (There was finally enough memory for significant text.) There are lots of NES games that are still fun to play.
- 4th Gen (SNES/Genny) Arguably the least significant previous leap, but you can still instantly tell a SNES game from an NES game by looking at them. Allowed for a lot more diversity in mechanics and truly great stories and graphics. You couldn't really do fighting games on the third gen, for example.
- 5th Gen (Playstation/Saturn/N64) Transition to 3D. HUGE change, though this gen kind of sucks. For those who think that the games often look ugly in retrospect, you have to understand, they were also ugly at the time. People were excited by 3D but everybody knew most of these games were hideous. These were also the first consoles on optical media, meaning lots more audio and video, though there had been CD add-ons like Sega-CD previously.
- 6th Gen (Xbox/PS2/DC/GC) 3D done right. This was like the leap between 3rd and 4th gen in terms of graphics, and you have the beginnings of HD content and the beginnings of online console gaming (I know there were some attempts previously, but nothing as universal or well-remembered as Xbox Live and PS2 games like SoCom.)
- 7th Gen (XB360/PS4/Wii) HD gaming and a huge expansion of online. These consoles were the first to have all their games in HD and saw a huge expansion in online gaming. I realize the Wii is an exception here, but that's one of the reasons people said the Wii was like two Gamecubes taped together.
- 8th Gen. (PS4/Xbox One) ...slightly better looking HD? There's definitely an upgrade here, but it's closer to the jump between the Genesis and Sega-CD or 32X than a whole new generation. As for new gameplay horizons, well, Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system apparently uses the additional RAM, and you can have more players at once in Battlefield than you could on the old consoles, but these are fairly small additions. We've yet to see anything even announced, other than Project Morpheus (which it seems like the PS4 is rather underpowered for) that looks like a game changer (pun intended.)
I realize I'm not saying anything truly revolutionary, but laid out like that it really makes me wonder why these consoles are such a small step forward when the generation before took 8 years and on paper, at least, the hardware is much more powerful. The PS4 has over 16 times as much RAM as the PS3, and a much more advanced chipset. With that huge leap in power we've gone from The Last of Us to...The Last of Us with a better frame rate and some improved lighting. Have we reached the point where art assets were already so expensive to build that they can't make them better even with more power? Doesn't seem that way, considering that we're not at 1080/60 yet, and PC games often look significantly better. Are programmers struggling to understand these new machines? Shouldn't be the case since they're basically just custom PCs, and even for people who program for consoles familiarity with the XBox360 PC-style architecture should make figuring out the PS4 and Xbox One relatively easy.
Maybe the boxes are just underpowered, but they were intended to last for another extended cycle, and from raw specs they do seem like a significant upgrade. Yet the only game that has truly felt "Next-gen" to me was Titanfall, which has a credible 360 version and relatively few players on the map simultaneously. This is the generation of the split-gen game (even though the boxes have sold better than the past generations) and the "big" Indie title, where small games get big pushes because of quality over graphics. There's nothing wrong with that, and I love that Shovel Knight and Thomas Was Alone are getting their due, but you know what? You don't need the power of the PS4 to play Thomas Was Alone. That game ran fine on the PS3. It would have run fine on the PS1 except for resolution. If the future of gaming was going to be these small titles I'd be cool with that, but we didn't need to buy new boxes.
I would love to see cool new experiences and flashy graphics on these machines, and I'm sure there will be great games for them (there already are great games) but I feel like this is going to be a relatively short generation, and the real next gen feeling will come with the VR boxes that will be released a few years from now. VR tech is improving by leaps and bounds and consumer units will be available soon, but these consoles don't have the required horsepower. I think that the 8th generation will be seen in retrospect as a kind of half-measure, a result of the 7th generation running too long but lacking the impact that will come with the 9th generation when Project Morpheus 2 and The Xbox Hololens change the way the mass market plays games.